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There are times when figures with cultural clout inadvertently stumble into public discussions about touchy subjects, brandish some garden variety ignorance and find that they suddenly have less capital and fewer, frayed connections.
Do you remember the live Nightline appearance of Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis refusing to get out of the hole Ted Koppel let him dig, insisting ever deeper that African Americans were too dumb to work in baseball management? In both these instances, a man of stature sent himself to the village idiot stockade. The outrage was immediate, vocal and effective in challenging outright ignorance delivered as fact. Pipsqueak lamentations of free speech trampling ignored that nothing was silenced in the insistence that responsibility be shackled to that oh-so precious freedom.
What he is saying is that, for "THEM", art is always political and Ken can't look at their art objectively because... well because they are black.
Maybe he was auditioning for Fox News, but more likely he was earnestly crafting a critique that revealed his contempt for artists outside his true cultural circle. Since Ken Johson vulgarly stereotypes, allow me to return the favor in pointing out that the suffocating insularity of New Yorkers like Ken Johnson long ago unplugged that city's claim to incubating any cultural zeitgeist.
If it were but a one-time thing we could shrug it off as just another cocky New Yorker in daily Vinny Barbarino strut, excited to give us details about how cool Studio 54 was like his city's great disco days are still the high water mark of western civilization.
But the shackled non-white artist is a pattern with Johnson. In 2010, Ken Johnson was scorning La Raza in his scolding review of "Phantom Sightings" (LINK TO ARTICLE), a sprawling museum show of Chicano art that embraced conceptual strategies and presentation methods. His tisk-tisking is predicated on the demonstrably obscene assertion that a few inclusive group shows of minorities in the 1970s solved race relations and ended racial identity association forever. Didn't you get the memo? Some of Ken's best friends danced with black and brown people at Studio 54, these "mod" New Yorkers are "with-it". Groovy?
Like the best culture being produced in America today, "Now Dig This" and "Phantom Sightings" were created in Los Angeles and then travelled to New York City. This is a dialogue between the city of the 21st century and the city of the 20th century. An enlightened Los Angeles mines the fertile territory of diversity's present. An ignorant New York City winces when reminded that people the color of their help are delivering their own visions of the world, not some yesteryear disco fantasy of a token minority show in a New York institution way back when Ken Johnson freed the slaves.
And so action is required. What is to be done? Shall we sign a petition? There is an online petition circulating. In 2012, signing a petition is like going to a church and lighting a candle. You get a warm feeling about being a part of something bigger than yourself and then nothing changes but your own self opinion and the distance between you and that original concern.
Is there something to boycott? Should we all boycott the New York Times? Oh dear god it took strength to even write out such a pathetic example of what some would clamor for as a sign of activism and commitment to "the cause". Rhetoric demands such strength of a writer but it reveals the weakness of true options in the face of the power of major media monoliths like Kenny-J's employer.
There is no boycott in the age of occupy. Just as there should be no collegial politeness to an exercise of ignorance riding in the limousine of published raw power.